Dynasty takes luxury airport fight to court
Oppenheimer aviation company Fireblade wants the Department of Home Affairs to investigate "evidence" of the Gupta family’s efforts to hijack its plans to operate a luxury international terminal at OR Tambo airport.
Fireblade has gone to court to review Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba’s decision to reject its application.
In an affidavit filed in the High Court in Pretoria on Monday, Fireblade director Robbie Irons said the department "displays no concern that, on evidence presented in the founding papers and not gainsaid in any of the answering papers, the Guptas consider themselves able to control Minister Gigaba’s decision on a matter of national interest".
The Oppenheimers want to offer on-site immigration and customs services at their fixed-base operation (FBO) for corporate jets. They blame the Guptas for Gigaba’s refusal to grant them the necessary approvals.
"One might have expected [the department] to investigate the circumstances in which the Guptas believe themselves able to determine who does and who does not operate an FBO at OR Tambo International Airport."
One might have expected [the department] to investigate the circumstances in which the Guptas believe themselves able to determine who does and who does not operate an FBO at OR Tambo International Airport
In his founding affidavit filed last year, Irons described how two Gupta pilots had detailed efforts by the Saxonwold family to wrest control of the Oppenheimer terminal.
One told Irons that during a flight from Moscow to Johannesburg on November 14 2015 Rajesh Gupta had asked him to convey a message to Fireblade that it needed a new black empowerment partner approved by the family if it wanted Gigaba’s approval. The pilots said when this approach failed the Guptas induced Denel to block Gigaba’s approval.
The Guptas have not responded to the allegations since they were first aired last year. Their lawyer, Gert van der Merwe, referred queries to their public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, which had not responded by the time of going to press.
In papers filed last month, Gigaba said he had rejected Fireblade’s application as it was beyond his powers to designate a new port of entry for exclusive private use.
"I would have considered the same whether it had come from the Oppenheimers, the Guptas or any other family," he said.
He strenuously denied his decision "was in any way influenced by Denel and/or the
He had "never had any discussions with members of the Gupta family" about the project, Gigaba said.
"The only party I have met is … members of the Oppenheimer family [who] constantly harassed me about their application," he said.
In his response to Gigaba, Irons said Fireblade was not asking him to designate a new port of entry.
It simply wanted ad hoc international customs and immigration services to be rendered by government officials at its terminal.
Letters Gigaba had sent to Cabinet colleagues in 2015 showed he was "perfectly aware" of this, said Irons.
He also pointed out public officials offering international customs and immigration services at privately owned Lanseria and Kruger airports and at FBOs throughout the world.
Denel acting CEO Zwelakhe Ntshepe filed an answering affidavit yesterday demanding that Fireblade’s "scandalous, vexatious, spurious, speculative [and] defamatory allegations be struck out".
He said it was "extremely suspicious that the ‘pilots’ refuse to sign a confirmatory affidavit". Ntshepe asked the court to rule their "hearsay evidence" inadmissible in the case.
He also threatened to sue Fireblade if it did not withdraw the statements.
Denel’s primary concern was that Fireblade had not met its security requirements, including obtaining clearance from the State Security Agency for its "employees, contractors and subcontractors".